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30 Oscar-worthy movies that never won an Academy Award

(Image credit: Paramount/Universal/Fox)

We all love to argue over the Oscars – that's part of the fun. What you may think is a shoo-in to take home the biggest prize in cinema may actually fall at the final hurdle, and another, perhaps undeserving (in your eyes) movie will scoop up Best Picture. There are many such deserving movies that have failed to win over Academy voters – movies that have been "snubbed" – and we're here to celebrate those films.

Below, you will find the best Oscar-worthy movies that never took home gold. There are some bonafide classics, like American Psycho and The Shining, and some hidden gems you may have missed the first time around. What's consistent between all the entries below is that they're great movies that deserve your attention. So, prepare to add a few more movies to that ever-expanding watchlist – these are the movies the Oscars did not honor but should have.

30. Don't Look Now (1973)

(Image credit: British Lion Films)

The movie: Nicolas Roeg’s spine-tinglingly horror follows a grief-stricken couple – Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland – retreating to Venice after the death of their daughter. There, they’re met by two sisters claiming their daughter is trying to contact them from beyond the grave. 

Was it nominated? Nope. Absolutely nothing. The now-classic thriller initially received positive, but not stunning, reviews. Only now is it regarded as a genre highlight. 

What it should’ve won: Don't Look Away could should have been a contender for Best Picture, Actress, and Actor – but the real snub is towards Nicolas Roeg, who does a sublime job at creating an anxious, tense atmosphere – one that filmmakers have tried to reproduce ever since.

29. Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

The movie: James Dean plays Jim Stark, the eponymous rebel, who starts life afresh in a new town. Unfortunately, it's not long before he makes a few enemies.

Was it nominated? Rebel Without a Cause picked up three nominations, but none of them were for Dean, who was instead nominated for East of Eden – for which he posthumously won.

What it should’ve won: Dean's performaces in both East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause are phenomenal, but it's the latter that has become truly iconic.

28. King Kong (1933)

(Image credit: Radio Picture)

The movie: The classic version of King Kong, in which the eponymous monster not only steals the show, but also Ann Darrow.

Was it nominated? Nope. Monster movies weren't taken particularly seriously back in the '30s, no matter how groundbreaking the special effects were. Or how much they made you cry.

What it should’ve won: Best Film, surely? Compare the impact of King Kong to actual Best Picture winner Cavalcade – it doesn't come close.

27. American Psycho (2000)

(Image credit: Sony)

The movie: Christian Bale plays the psychopathic Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s incredible adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' controversial novel.

Was it nominated? Nope. Another classic went completely ignored by the Academy Awards, despite having a long, impactful legacy.

What it should’ve won: The star of American Psycho is, of course, Bale, who should have won the Best Actor award for his terrifying, intense portrayal of a man living on the edge.

26. Rear Window (1954)

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

The movie: Photographer Jeff, played immaculately by James Stewart, spies on his neighbours after finding himself housebound with a broken leg. Soon enough, the voyeur witnesses something... murderous.

Was it nominated?
Alfred Hitchcock was nominated for six Oscars over his career yet never took home the Best Director statuette. Rear Window got him close, though, with a nomination in the category. Something, at least.

What it should’ve won: Best Director would have been most fitting, but so too would have Best Actor, as Stewart does a mesmerising job despite being stuck in essentially one place through the movie's runtime. 

25. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

(Image credit: RKO Radio Pictures)

The movie: James Stewart's lays a depressed businessman contemplating suicide, but soon discovers there's so much more to life than running a business – plus there's a whole family relying on him. 

Was it nominated? Five nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director), but no prizes.

What it should’ve won: Again, we're going to have to Stewart's unbridled performance should definitely have landed him Best Actor.

24. Mean Streets (1973)

(Image credit: Universal)

The movie: Charlie (Harvey Keitel) attempts to climb the Mafia ranks in New York's Little Italy, but discovers it's not as easy as it sounds.

Was it nominated? Nope. The Academy was far more interested in The Sting, A Touch of Class and Save the Tiger.

What it should’ve won: Robert De Niro deserved a Best Supporting Actor gong for his performance as the psychotic Johnny Boy.

23. Miller's Crossing (1990)

(Image credit: Fox)

The movie: Prohibition-era thriller from the Coen brothers. Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) is caught between two gangs who are attempting to take control of the city.

Was it even nominated: Not a single nomination. Which seems strange, considering how much the Academy now loves the Coens.

What it should’ve won: Barry Sonnenfeld's cinematography was certainly worthy of a trophy, while the Coens' script is easily a strong contender for the Best Original Screenplay gong. If they had been nominated, of course…

22. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

The movie: Sergio Leone's epic tracks the lives of New York gangsters as they rise through the ranks and revel in the Prohibition era (and beyond).

Was it nominated? Nope. While the movie may have gone through a tortured post-production process, that does not excuse the Academy for completely ignoring this masterpiece.

What it should’ve won: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Costume Design… This should have been an awards sweep. Alas, this exquisite piece of filmmaking will forever be one of the Oscar's most notorious snubs.

21. Marvin's Room (1996)

(Image credit: Miramax Films)

The movie: When Bessie (Diane Keaton) discovers she has leukaemia, she attempts to rebuild her relationship with her sister (Meryl Streep) and her two sons.

Was it nominated? Keaton received a nomination in the Best Actress category, but none of the other cast members got any recognition.

What it should’ve won: Keaton, Streep, and Leonardo DiCaprio are all fantastic, while Scott McPherson should have been at least nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for his emotional, but never saccharine, scripting.

20. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

(Image credit: Produzioni Europee Associate)

The movie: Clint Eastwood returns as the unnamed bounty hunter. This time, he's up against two ruthless killers – Tuco and Angel Eyes. 

Was it nominated? Upon release, critics frowned upon the movie's violence, leaving this epic Western completely unrewarded by the Oscars.

What it should’ve won: Another movie that has lasted the test of time. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly remains an all-time classic and should have picked up either Best Picture or Best Director for Sergio Leone.

19. Leon: The Professional (1994)

(Image credit: Les Films du Dauphin)

The movie: Orphan Mathilda (Natalie Portman) is taken in by the eponymous assassin (Jean Reno) when her family's killed by Gary Oldman's maniac cop.

Was it nominated? When you're a foreign language movie, let alone a violent foreign language movie, you're already at a disadvantage when it comes to the Oscars. so it's no surprise Luc Besson's movie didn't receive a single nomination.

What it should’ve won: Best Supporting Actor for Gary Oldman. His portrayal of an unhinged antagonist is spellbinding. 

18. Halloween (1978)

(Image credit: Universal)

The movie: John Carpenter’s influential slasher click sees Jamie Lee Curtis's innocent babysitter being stalked and almost murdered by the terrifying Michael Myers.

Was it nominated? As you may have guessed, this got absolutely nothing. The Oscars hated horror! And, arguably, still do – though the Academy has softened slightly towards spooky flicks. 

What it should’ve won: Carpenter is a masterful director, who turns the paradise of middle-class America into a frightening world filled with faceless killers. A Best Director win would have been well deserved.

17. What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

(Image credit: Paramount)

The movie: This drama follows the Grape family – among them Gilbert (Johnny Depp), who has to look after younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Was it nominated? DiCaprio received a much-deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

What it should’ve won: DiCaprio should have taken the Supporting Actor prize home. He lost to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive, a '90s action flick that really was completely OK...

16. The Shining (1980)

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The movie: Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's novel sees  Jack Nicholson head to an isolated hotel with his family, where he starts seeing ghosts. Then he loses his mind…

Was it even nominated: You guessed it. The Academy couldn't get over their hatred of horror even for maestro Kubrick.

What it should’ve won: Best Actor. Though, we should not, Robert De Niro won that same year for Raging Bull. That would have been one incredible Oscars race.

15. Psycho (1960)

(Image credit: Paramount)

The movie: Norman Bates goes on the rampage in this classic shocker, which tackles everything from cross-dressing to cold-blooded murder.

Was it nominated? Hitchcock picked up another Best Director nomination but failed to take home the award. Janet Leigh, the victim of that iconic shower scene, garnered a Best Supporting Actress nod.

What it should’ve won: Leigh deserved the gold – she made what should have been a thieving harlot into a likeably flawed heroine.

14. In the Mood for Love (2000)

(Image credit: USA Films)

The movie: Wong Kar-wai's modern classic about unrequited love between two neighbours in Hong Kong.

Was it nominated? Nothing. Though Wong Kar-wai did get a shoutout from Sofia Coppo when she won an Oscar for Lost in Translation – the iconic opening shot of that movie was heavily inspired by In The Mood For Love.

What it should’ve won: Best Foreign Language Film, though it would have been up again Pedro Almodóvar's All About My Mother. 

13. Stand by Me (1986)

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

The movie: Four friends go on a quest to uncover the body of a missing boy in this Stephen King adaptation.

Was it even nominated: Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans received a nomination for their screenplay, but nobody else got a look in.

What it should’ve won: Best Adapted Screenplay would be the obvious call, though the movie's impressive young stars are all remarkable. River Phoenix, in particular, is OScar-worthy.

12. Memento (2000)

(Image credit: Newmarket Films)

The movie: Guy Pearce suffers from short-term memory loss – though that certainly isn't going to prevent him from tracking down the man who killed his wife. Oh, and this is directed by Christopher Nolan, so expect some time-altering shenanigans. 

Was it even nominated: It received just two nominations: Best Film Editing and Best Original Screenplay. 

What it should’ve won: Best Film Editing, without a shadow of a doubt. With its non-linear narrative, the movie still manages to feel coherent, and when the credits roll you feel exhilarated rather than confused.

11. Heat (1995)

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The movie: Epic crime noir from director Michael Mann, in which Robert De Niro and Al Pacino go head to head. Sort of.

Was it even nominated: Despite being one of the best crime dramas of all time, the Academy basically pretended Mann's masterpiece never existed.

What it should’ve won: Val Kilmer would have made for a great recipient of the Best Supporting Actor award. Dante Spinotti's cinematography is also a highlight of this incredible movie.

10. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

(Image credit: Paramount)

The movie: A wildly entertaining biopic telling the rise and fall of stockbroker and scammer Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Was it nominated? The Wolf of Wallstreet picked up five nominations, including a Best Director nod for Martin Scorsese and a Best Actor nod for DiCaprio.

What it should've won: Matthew McConaughey is admittedly great in Dallas Buyers Club, yet DiCaprio's menacing deviant should have bagged the actor his first Oscar – even if just for the Quaaludes sequence alone.

9. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

(Image credit: Miramax)

The movie: Quentin Tarantino's bloodbath of a debut feature, Reservoir Dogs concerns a heist that goes terribly wrong – and someone gets their ear cut off.

Was it nominated? Tarantino's debut didn't receive a single nomination. Thankfully,  the Academy made up for their error by honouring him in 1994, for Pulp Fiction, instead.

What it should’ve won: Best Original Screenplay. Tarantino has always been an incredible writer of dialogue, and this is no different. 

8. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

(Image credit: Sony)

The movie: Adam Sandler takes on a serious role, playing novelty shop owner Barry Egan, who struggles to make a living and deal with his ridiculing sisters. And then he finds love.

Was it nominated? Nada for Paul Thomas Anderson's mesmerising movie. 

What it should’ve won: Sandler is superb in a more grounded, less comical role, and should have picked up the Best Actor award. Yet, there's also Philip Seymour Hoffman – who would have been an excellent candidate for Best Supporting Actor.

7. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

(Image credit: Fox)

The movie: Darkly magical fantasy from Tim Burton. Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp) escapes his isolated castle and attempts to fit in with normal '60s society.

Was it nominated? Stan Winston received a doff of the cap for Best Makeup, but everybody else was left scratching their heads.

What it should’ve won: Best Makeup should have belonged to the Edward Scissorhands team  (damn you, Dick Tracy), and Depp would have been a far more interesting choice over Jeremy Irons, who won Best Actor for Reversal of Fortune.

6. Tokyo Story (1953)

(Image credit: Shochiku)

The movie: Yasujirō Ozu's masterpiece about ordinary life in Tokyo, shot in an extraordinary light. Essential cinema.

Was it nominated: Tokyo Story reached cinemas in November, 1993 – a year in which the Foreign Language Oscar was not presented to anyone. Teinosuke Kinugasa's Gate of Hell picked up the award in 1994, and no other nominees were even announced. That should put some perspective on how the Academy regarded non-English language cinema.

What it should've won: Best Picture and Best Director should have belonged to Tokyo Story and Ozu, respectively. Thankfully, filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas discovered Tokyo Story at a later date, and turned this into one of the most influential movies of all time. 

5. Drive (2011)

(Image credit: FilmDistrict)

The movie: Nicolas Winding Refn's slick, '80s-style crime thriller centres on Ryan Gosling's nameless driver, who attempts to help his neighbour (Carey Mulligan), only to find trouble waiting for him.

Was it nominated? Just one nomination–  for Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis's gorgeous sound editing.

What it should’ve won: Drive score is wonderfully atmospheric, but it's Gosling who should have been up for Best Actor. His performance is a tour de force in restraint.

4. Fight Club (1999)

(Image credit: Fox)

The movie: The Narrator (Edward Norton) has his life turned upside down by Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), the founder of an underground fight club.

Was it nominated? Fight Club picked up a nomination for Best Effects, which is a bit of a kick in the teeth considering the amount of acting talent involved.

What it should’ve won:
Norton and Pitt are both incredible, yet Helena Bonham Carter should have walked away with Best Supporting Actress. Plus, the cinematography is astounding. A couple of potentials for this exquisite thriller. 

3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

The movie: Adapted from Stephen King's novella, The Shwashank Redemption sees a wrongly-imprisoned banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) attempts to escape jail.

Was it nominated? Despite bombing at the box office, The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Cinematography, Best Picture and Best Sound.

What it should’ve won: Best Picture or Best Adapted Screenplay, though Morgan Freeman would have deserved the Best Actor award.

2. The Big Lebowski (1998)

(Image credit: Working Title)

The movie: "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) is mistaken for a millionaire and has to accept a job to pay for the damage he does to the rich Lebowski's home.

Was it nominated? Nope. But the Coens did get a Berlin Golden Bear nomination...

What it should’ve won: Bridges deserved Best Actor, but John Goodman's scene-stealing performance definitely should have earned him a Supporting Actor award.

1. The Terminator (1984)

(Image credit: MGM)

The movie: James Cameron's sci-fi epic sees Arnold Schwarzenegger's robotic bounty hunter travel back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).

Was it nominated? Nope. The Terminator, despite being one of cinema's most iconic movies, didn't pick up a single nomination. Not even special effects. For shame, Academy.

What it should’ve won:
Best Special Effects is the most obvious. Yet, it's Cameron's script that's disarmingly lean, punchy, and imaginative. A Best Original Screenplay should have been his.

And that's you all caught up on movies that never won Oscars! Wants more awards content? then check out our piece on the best Oscar-winners of all time.